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PC-LAN Combinations Should Be Helpful to MIS Departments of the Fortune 1000.

The explosive growth of the personal-computer (PC) market caught many of the Fortune 1000 data processing departments by surprise. Personal computers sprouted throughout the organizations and had firmly established themselves before information managers could gain any semblance of control.

This phase of the "PC wave" is now passing and most MIS departments have established peace with the personal computer, even to the point of setting up in-house personal-computer stores that provide hardware, software and training to PC users in the organizations.

A new wave is coming that will have an even-more-profound impact on the Fortune 1000 organization: the local-area network (LAN) combined with the personal computer.

To understand this wave, we have to examine the relationship between the operating departments and the data processing department in a Fortune 1000 organization. The data processing department provides a service to the operating departments and, like most service departments, cannot always provide complete user satisfaction. The information manager is in the classic "no win" situation. The operating department's manager often finds it frustrating that certain data processing projects take so long and are out of his/her direction control.

Before the advent of the personal computer, many of these operating managers purchased a minicomputer to perform the applications they were having trouble getting the MIS department to provide. The minicomputer didn't solve the basic problem, since it had to be programmed and managed, but commercially available software did allow the operating manager to concentrate the resources under his/her control on the department's specific problems. The minicomputer broke the problem down to manageable size and brought a level of freedom and control to the department manager.

The personal computer took the minicomputer one step further; it brought freedom and control not only to the department but also to the individual. The individual now had extensive control over his processing. He could choose to purchase as powerful or as inexpensive a processor as desired (within a budget, of course), and he could select software tools from a vast array of possibilities. This freedom greatly advanced the personal computer's popularity.

Up to Now, PC Has Worked Well Only for Individuals

Office work, however, is a combination of group effort and individual effort, and up to this point in time the Pc has really only worked well for the individual. If one person has been working on a spreadsheet and needs to give the numbers to someone else, a floppy disk must be sent. Control of data in a work group can become very complex and difficult.

The local-area network is a solution to this problem. Since LANs can provide connectivity for personal computers, each user still has the freedom that the PC conferred, plus the LAN allows sharing of files, sending mail, and traditional minicomputer functions.

All of this would be fine and would have no effect on the MIS department, except the work group needs to access the mainframe for corporate data files. Since the personal computer is a smart, programmable device, this is done primarily by having the personal computer emulate a terminal for interactive host access and file transfer.

The size of this market can be seen by the rapid sales growth of coax interface boards such as DCA's Irma. There is a hidden cost to this "IBM" vonnectivity, however, because each PC ties up one port on a 3274 control unit, even though, by definition, it is only using the port part of the time (if it were a full-timer user, a 3270 terminal should be used in place of the PC). The LAN-to-Host Connectivity Must Be High-Speed

A LAN can allow switching and port contention to the host, thus significantly reducing the number of ports required. This LAN-to-host connectivity must be high-speed, because users want access to the mainframe for file transfer, as well as for interactive sessions.

Many people in the industry today think that the personal computer is a fad in the Fortune 1000 organization and that the MIS department will regain (mainframe) control because of the need to protect the corporate data base. If history is any guide, this is not likely to happen.

For example, most people who have studied the transportation problem agree that we would be a lot better off if everyone used public transportation instead of private automobiles. The individual's desire for freedom and independence, however, has absolutely prevented this.

Personal computers are likely to follow the same pattern. Most MIS managers and corporate executives will try to control the proliferation and cost to the company of personal computers and LANs, while at the same time the department managers will take the position that they need to control PCs to satisfy their operating requirements. As a result, several million personal computers are expected to be installed in Fortune 1000 organizations over the next few years.

The farsighted information manager will recognize this reality and move toward providing a single, standard, local-area network for the users, rather than ignoring it while a variety of incompatible LANs get installed in the user departments. The MIS department should think of itself as a sort of "electronic department of transportation," with responsibility to build and maintain the "highways" that the personal computers will use to share data and communicate.

What Should Be Looked for in Selecting a LAN?

What should be looked for in selecting a LAN for a corporation? First, and perhaps most important of all, the wiring scheme should allow the building to be wired one time only. The old "wire as you go" approach used with 3270 coax is not acceptable. This approach leads to the abandoment of cable when terminals are moved, because removal or reclaiming the cable is too expensive. This, in turn, leads to clogged and overfilled cable trays.

In my opinion, Ethernet is not an acceptable system to prewire a building in many cases, because each Ethernet tap requires an expensive transceiver and the number of taps is limited to one hundred per segment. Thin Ethernal ("Cheapernet") is even less acceptable, because the cable itself must be brought to each terminal, since the transceiver is built into the terminal.

The IBM cabling system specification might be well suited, because it allows every office to be wired with low-cost wire (shielded twisted-pair) and it clusters the wire by department instead of bringing everything back to one place. The wiring cost is not exhorbitant if it is installed with the telephone wiring, and sheilded twisted-pair has a significant bandwidth.

The LAN chosen should provide a high degree of connectivity, allowing personal computers, 3270 terminals and async terminals to be connected to the LAN and to access many different hosts. For example, the user of a 3270 terminal should be able to access any IBM mainframe or minicomputer in the network, on command.

Logically, the local-area network should provide for shared file access by programs executing in the personal computers. There are a number of these software systems available, so this is not a difficult requirement. Digital Research's DRnet, for example, allows the user to execute commercially available programs on a PC and access data on a file server with no modifications to the application.

The step after shared file access is to have a data-base facility on the file server so that logical requests can be made for data instead of by physical location on the disk. Several vendors are starting to provide this capability.

What Need Is There for a Mainframe in A LAN?

With all of this capability on a LAN, you might ask: "Why do I need a mainframe?"

The mainframe will probably become the data-base manager. Large corporate data bases are on mainframes today and it will probably be easier to add software to the mainframe than to move the data to a separate data-base machine, especially since many corporate mainframe applications also need access to that data. And, as the people who ran 1401 emulation taught us, it takes a long time to convert existing applications.

The personal-computer/LAN combination has tapped one of the most basic traits of Americans: the desire for freedom. The MIS department should consider a LAN solution as a way to help satisfy that desire among the PC users.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Henderson, Michael
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1986
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